Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Buried: A Goth Girl Mystery (review)

3/5 stars

Buried: A Goth Girl Mystery is a spinoff series to Linda Joy Singleton's popular self-published The Seer series.  I enjoyed (didn't love, didn't dislike) the first book of The Seer but was never very motivated to continue.  So when I saw the e-galley for Buried I thought it was the perfect opportunity to give the author another try.  Singleton has published many books since Don't Die Dragonfly and I always like to see how the author has improved.

Unfortunately this book started strong then slowly unravelled.

Thorn aka Beth Anne is actually one of the more likable goths in YA literature.  Often I find them too stereotypical and just too overdone.  Thorn is a little more self-aware and a little less self-righteous.  She's a minister's daughter who loves her family, wants to please her parents but still wants to be different.  As far as fictional goths, she's atypical because for the most part she's a good kid.  But she isn't your typical minister's daughter.  She's a Finder, pretty much a low level psychic who has an uncanny ability to find things.

The problem with this book isn't the character.  It's the plot.  Though the book is supposed to be a mystery, very little time is spent on actual detective work.  Thorn finds a strange, rather ugly, locket that makes her Finder Senses start tingling.  It quickly leads her a dead baby buried in a shallow grave. It's a solid idea for a mystery, believable and creepy.

But too much of this book is spent on subplots.  There's a talent contest, with a guest judge famous popstar, that Thorn joins in order to investigate the participants.  Aside from asking someone for pictures and emailing her friend (Manny from The Seer) to do some research, Thorn does very little detective work.  Most of the book is spent on the Grinning Reaper, a high school prankster who seeks vengeance on bullies.  It's a fun little plot, but the book seemed to lose track of it's priorities.  Eventually the mystery is solved, though shoddily and more through mishap than any real detective work.

I can't say this book was terrible.  It was a fairly pleasant, light reading experience.  But I also can't say that it's very good.  It felt like the author had quite a few interesting story ideas and had trouble choosing which plotline to follow.

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Gardening book obsession

This year I feel like I've actually arrived on-time to the gardening party. Normally it hits about March, with the sun shining when I'm already behind.  Thanks to the abnormally warm winter (never mind the 6 inches of snow we got last weekend the garden bug bit me early this year.  Here are some of the book I've been reading.

The Quarter Acre Farm
This book is genuinely fun to read.  If you're looking for a "how to" guide this isn't the book for you.  But if you enjoy reading about one woman's adventure in gardening this is a wonderful book.  Spring Warren decided to attempt to grow 75% of the food she ate out of her garden.  There are successes, failures and mishaps, all of which are great fun to read.  It's more inspiration and entertaining than practical, but it was a great way to start the gardening season.

Vegetable Gardener's Handbook
This book isn't one you really "read" it's more of a journal with dates and a timeline.  I used the libraries copy to create a planting calendar.  If it turns out well then maybe I'll buy my own copy.  It's a practical sort of book.  I probably wouldn't recommend it as your first gardening book but maybe as a companion to your first gardening book. (Your first gardening book should inspire you in my opinion).

Gardening with Heirloom Seeds
Now this is where I'm beginning to question the sanity of my reading. I grow very few plants from seeds. I tried...and failed pretty epically last year at the seed starting.  But really, I loved reading this book.  I found the origins of plants fascinating.  Heirloom seeds carry a certain history with them that the book captured.  I only read the the vegetable portions (I'm really not a flower gardener).

I've still got two more books from the library on my reading list.  The Kitchen Garden (which has lovely pictures) and The Profitable Hobby Farm even though I have no real intentions of making money off my small garden. I'm just curious.

You Grow Girl
This is my first gardening book recommendation to everyone. It's inspirational and practical without being intimidating.  I use both this and Grow Great Grub as my go to gardening books.  You can read my You Grow Girl review here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Follow Friday (3) My Reading Spot!

Q: Activity!!! Take a picture or describe where you love to read the most...

This week's follow Friday is a photo activity. YAY!  Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.

I added some bubbles to give you more information about my reading spot.  I bought this love seat at Goodwill for $10 my senior year of college.  It's served me well for many years. It's not the most pretty thing but it is SO cozy.  Next to me you can see I collect teacups.  And by collect I mean procrastinate putting them in the dishwasher.  Also, I normally read on my beloved Kindle.

I read almost everywhere though--in my bed, at my desk during lunch break. Yesterday it was a beautiful February day and I read in the sunshine outside a warehouse full of Girl Scout cookies.  I listen to audiobooks so I read in my car.  I'm pretty much always reading.

This is another place I enjoy reading.  It doesn't look like much now but in the summer when there's a breeze it's a lovely reading location.  But honestly I'll pretty much read ANYWHERE because reading takes me away from where I am.  So how about you, where do you like to read?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Breakdown of a Heroine: Mattie Ross from True Grit

4/5 stars

So I'm pretty excited to FINALLY read this book and blog about it.  My friend Catie (she's over at The Readventurer now, check it out) recommended this book to me months ago.  I immediately requested it at the local library.  I waited and waited. Turns out whoever had it last STILL hasn't returned it.  But recently it arrived in my mailbox, sent by Catie as a present. So YAY!!

Who is Mattie?
Mattie Ross is 14-year-old, but she's no child.  She's capable.  More responsible than most of the adults I know, she maintains the family budget and helps keep the family farm going.  Mattie's got a strong sense of justice and is pretty much fearless.

Strength of Character
Mattie has a stubbornness that I always admire in a young girl.  She's very intelligent, able to read and write, but what I admire the most is her determination.  I like the fact the novel handles hercharacter realistically.  Sometimes stories want big flashy heroines, with uncanny abilities to shoot, run or fight.  Mattie is not unnaturally strong or an excellent fighter, but just an intelligent young woman who knows what she wants.  She balances the budgets, bargains with jaded cowboys and knows when she's being taken advantage of.

Mattie's Storyline
When her father is murdered, Mattie goes to Fort Smith to claim the body.  She is unflinching when identifying it.  Upon hearing the whole story, that Tom Chaney a man her father was helping out murdered him she's determined to make sure Tom is punished.  She makes a deal with one-eyed US marshall Rooster Cogburn to find her father's killer.  Despite Rooster's objections, Mattie inists on coming.  She knows something that most people don't realize until they are much older. If you want a job done right, you can't just hand someone $50 and watch them ride off into the Indian territories.  With a determination and intelligence beyond her age, Mattie goes off into the wilderness chasing her father's killer.

Romantic Entanglements

This book is considered a classic for a reason.  It's a fairly simple story.  It's not full of unnecessary twists or cliffhangers.  It'd told in a very straight-forward manner, the perfect voice of the non-nonsense Mattie Ross.  The genius of this book is the ability to create a believable 14-year-old heroine set against the backdrop of the wild west.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fairy Ring - Flash fiction contest

So this is not something I normally do on my blog.  Even though I enjoy writing, this is a book review blog not a writing blog.  But my friend Anna has been poking, goading and reminding me on twitter about her writing contest celebrating the release of The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure.  Never let it be said that I am unwilling to embarrass myself for the sake of my friends.

A Faery in Kentucky

When I was little, my papaw used to talk about faeries that lived in the woods behind our house.  We never paid him any attention.  He always told tall tales, it went with the moonshine—both making and drinking it.

Then one day I was wading in the creek when something tapped my shoulder.  When I turned around no one was there.  Another tap and I spun around, slipping on a mossy stone and splashing in the water.  Then he appeared, pointing at me and laughing.

Climbing out of the creek, I chased him, following his tinkling laughter through the trees.  He flew faster than a hummingbird, staying just within sight then darting away.  That’s why I didn’t notice the hole until I fell, crashing down to the cave floor.

When I looked around I couldn’t see anything except the beam of sunshine coming from the ceiling.  With horror I remembered a story my brother told me, about a hog that fell into a mash pit. It died before anyone found it.  Behind me, the faery giggled.

“That was very nice.”  With my hands on my hips, I tried to look like my mother when she was angry.

He cocked his head to the side, puzzled.

“I could’ve died!"

He flitted towards the ceiling like he expected me to follow.  After a moment he came down, then flew in another direction.  I followed his glowing wings.  It was dark in the cave and I smacked into something metal.  Papaw’s old still! The faery kept flying circles around the room.  Ignoring him I started feeling around until I found an old wooden ladder.  It was homemade and heavy.  I pushed it up against the opening and climbed out.  Another tap on my shoulder but when I turned the faery was gone.

If you're interesting in the contest here's the details & other entries

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Illuminate (review)

2/5 stars

For the record I really don't like not liking a book. It's awkward for both of us, kinda like a bad first date (this is implying that I have much more dating experience than I do).  It keeps talking and talking.  I keep searching for something, anything redeemable, that'll make me want to give this book a second chance.

Me and this book just aren't meant to be.

The biggest issue for me is that it just moves so slowly.  Half this book is spent running errands or on training montages.  Maybe other people are more interested in what it's like to be a personal assistant to someone rich and glamorous, but that's not me.  There's life threatening danger, mystery and evil looming.  Instead of action, we get the two main characters delivering chocolate or uploading photos.

Almost everything is revealed by eavesdropping through conveniently placed secret passageways (that the owners somehow don't realize lead right to Haven's room) and almost all the plot is conversationally driven.  500 pages of errands, training montages, eavesdropping leading up to 30 pages of action just doesn't work.

To make matters worse they listen to a bossy book written by a mysterious force (and don't expect to know who that is by the end of the book).  The messages in the book are cryptic, vague, sometimes contradictory, and creepily similar to those weird motivation posters they put up in offices and schools.
You will learn inner strength--to a degree far greater than you have ever known--and physical strength. None of this will be easy; all of it will be necessary
I'm not the type of person to blindly follow a bossy book.  Haven is supposed to be smart, but as it becomes more and more obvious that the hotel is dangerous the stupider she seems to become.  At no point does she ever think "Let's just leave," but just keeps on running errands for her demon-boss even after the book tells her she's probably going to die.

There were some believability issues with Haven for me.  She's supposed to be a tomboy who doesn't care about fashion, but whenever it comes to describing clothes it reads like a magazine.  Turns out the author is actually also a celebrity magazine writer.  I have problems when author's interject their voice into a character when it doesn't make sense.  Logically Haven, head more likely found studying math than in a magazine, shouldn't be able to describe clothes that vividly.

Overall this book just didn't work for me.  I hope other people, maybe those who like magazines or celebrities more, will find this book more appealing.

Thanks to Southern Book Bloggers for letting me participate in this ARC tour.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Follow Friday (2) - Names, good & bad

Q: BeefcakesandBabes Asks: I like unique names for characters and am looking forward to coming up with some when I start writing. What's the most unique character name you've come across?

Funny that you should ask.  Unique names are actually a pet-peeve of mine.  I feel like sometimes writers try WAY too hard to be clever and create names that would never exist.  Part of the reason I can't stand the trend is because I used to work in a mega-church nursery. Do you know how many weird names I saw? How many different spellings of the same name?  Everyone thinks they are being clever but nope.  Nothing is wrong with a good, easy to spell, sensible name. Don't make your children get teased.

I tend to find creative names horrible.  Let's be honest. Peeta Mellark? The bakers son named after a Greek bread? Horrid. I love Hunger Games but GAH.  Okay I need to stop before this turns into a rant.

Instead I'll list some of my favorite names.  I'm sure there are other names that I really like, but these are the ones I remembered most easily. There's a value to that.  For me a name doesn't have to be the most original. It just needs to fit the character.

Names I like:
1. Alexia Tarabotti (Soulless) - It's a little bit weird, but accessible.  It tells you that her father's Italian and it's a fitting name for the character.
2. Atticus O'Sullivan (Hounded)- Fitting for a 2,100 year old druid posing as a 21 year old.  Irish and sexy.
3. Ginny Weasley (Harry Potter) - I'd always seen it spelled "Jenny" and really like it with a G. Yes I know it sounds a little different but I have no idea how else to explain this.
5. D.J. Schwenk (Dairy Queen) - So perfect for a farm girl.
6. Tom Mackee  (Saving Francesca & The Piper's Son) - Do not ask me why but I cannot imagine this character with a different name. He's just Tom Mackee.
3. Karou (Daughter of Smoke and Bone)- An exception to the weird name rules. Mainly because it's set in a country where I have no idea what the language sounds like.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Same Sun Here (review) - Oh the joys of pen pals!

4/5 stars

I'm beginning to think that I don't just occasionally enjoy middle grade books, but I might legitimately love it as a genre.  I keep reading middle grade books or younger YA books that I think are the exception to the rule.  But not everything can be the exception.

Same Sun Here is a delightful story, innocent and youthful.  Its the tale of two pen pals.  Meena was born in India but currently living in New York City. River is from rural Eastern Kentucky. (Though the county is supposedly fictionalized, it's pretty much London KY.  The Dairy Dart reference gives it away).

Letters can be lovely or tedious.  Same Sun Now is maybe the best pen pal story that I've ever read (at least the best in a long time).  The letters feel real, using lots of exclamation points and loooooooooots of silly antics people use when writing letters, while still maintaining readability.  Because of the co-authoring of this book both characters have distinct voices.
"It's weird that you are originally from the mountains, because that's where I live now. I looked up where you were born online and it's cool because the mountains there look so much like mine, with pine trees and everything. I always expected India to only have big palm trees for some reason." (River)
Meena is adorable, mixing memories of India with tales of New York City.  I've never been to the city but she gives it both personality and problems.  She'll talk about the subway, buying mangos on a stick from a stand, but also rent controlled apartments and evil landlords.  Often I feel like New York is either idealized or criminalized in stories.  This was a nice mix.

River is a country boy.  His childhood sounds a bit like mine, playing in the creek, roaming the woods and climbing trees.  His mamaw is a political activist, something that I think is a rarity in Kentucky.  I know Silas House's politics and I feel like he's a little heavy handed with them in this novel.  For me that's the biggest flaw in this book.  It can't just be a cute story about two kids who find out they have more in common than different.  It has to become an issue book about mountaintop removal.

I've been open about how I'm sensitive about the portrayal of Appalachians and the complicated relationship we have with coal.  House does a much better job of handling the issue than the The Evening Hour (an adult novel set in WV that I recently reviewed).  He at least acknowledges that within Appalachia there are two sides.  But after a cursory nod to the other side, he makes his opinion very obvious.

What I like is the two characters with contrasting lives and cultures.  For me that's beautiful and works so well. But near the end of the book it comes more about the issue of coal than the characters of Meena and River.  Overall I liked this book.  But I started out absolutely loving and my love waned.  Sometimes that's the worst feeling with a book.  Still it's a delightful book about two kindred spirits, finding friendship despite their differences.

On a related note this book gave me an interesting conundrum and I'm curious to see other people's opinions.  Near the end there's a scene where River meets the governor of Kentucky.  However, rather than using the real governors name they had a fictionalized governor.  This gave me pause because the letters are dated (2008 & 2009) and it's a contemporary book set in the real world.  Does this bother anyone else?  It really bothered me.  It felt contrived because it took me out of the story. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Follow Friday!

 What would you prefer: reading your favorite book over and over again until you got sick of it OR reading 100s of mediocre books? And why?

Hard question. I'm going to have to say 100s of mediocre books. That answers surprises even me. Lately I've read too many mediocre books and I'm looking for something to fall in love with.  (Give me recommendations if you have any! Only true love books though.)

However, I never want to get sick of my favorite books.  My favorite books, like Harry Potter, Hex Hall, Jellicoe Road, Chaos Walking, are like dear friends.  I want to love and treasure them, not burn out on them.  The thought of not loving these books would break my heart.  I would suffer through 100s of mediocre books for their sake.  They make reading worth it!  And eventually, in the sea of too many blah books, you always find something that you love!

Thanks to the fantabulous Follow Friday hosts Parajunkee & Alison

Monday, February 6, 2012

Library book sales & other booklover insanity

So this week the local library had a book sale. Which always ends with me buying books that I don't need and have never even considered reading because I cannot resist a bargain (especially a bargain for a good cause!)

So here's what I bought.

The highlights of my library shopping (aka awards for most ridiculous purchases)

Takes, Talk and Tomfollery
A Collection of Folklore by Lawana Trout

With gems such as Story in Harlem Slang, the Oklahoma Sissy and Moron Jokes. None of when are very PC anymore. (This book is from 1975)

Clay's Ark by Octavia Bulter

I'm going to be honest. I just so 80s sci-fi with this kinda ugly, kinda wonderful cover and I bought it.  I was like MUST HAVE.  Did I read the synopsis on the flap or the back? NOPE.  My current game plan is too eventually review this one.

Synopsis from back.
     "You made a promise!" he said to Eli. "You said you'd keep her safe!"
     "Yes." Eli's coloring looked worse than ever in the cool dimness of the room. His voice was almost too soft to be heard. "I said that." He unclasped his hands and Blake noticed that even they were dripping wet. Diaphoresis, Blake thought. Excessive sweating--symptomatic of what? Emaciation, trembling, bad coloring, now sweating--plus surprising strength, speed and coordination. God knew what else. Symptomatic of what?"
I also have a few books sitting on a shelf waiting to be read.

Ultraviolet given to me by the wonderful Forever YA blog.
True Grit sent to me by the lovely lovely Catie from Goodreads.
Goliath bought by me. I can't believe I still haven't finished what is one of my favorite series in recent days.  AHHHH.

Then let's not even talk about what's on my Kindle waiting for me. It includes:
Angelfall, Deadly Cool, Withering Tights, Jane Eyre, Unearthly, Shine, etc. Those are just the ones I've bought.  There are lots of e-galleys (so many I schedule on a calendar) waiting for me too.

But no, the insanity doesn't stop there.  Because it's almost gardening season I checked out 4 (yes 4) books from the library this week.

My actual To Read list that I maintain over on goodreads has 231 books currently on it.  There's a reason I don't buy everything on my TBR list.  Mainly because I like to be able to pay bills and eat food. Cassi's To Read list.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pure (review)

3/5 stars


I have very mixed feelings about reviewing this book.  In some ways I liked it.  But in some ways it just felt like it needed more work.

Pure is set in a dystopian future after the Detonations, a nuclearesque explosion, has ended the world.  There are two sets of survivors.  The Pures, protected in a dome built to withstand the bombings.  They live in a safe, but controlled world.  Then there are the wretches, those who survived the bombing, broken and no longer whole.  But in some sense they are free (at least until age 16).

At first I struggled with the grotesqueness.  I wondered if it was too much.  But we're talking dystopia.  The mutations set the story apart, upping the gross factor and the terror.  Dystopians should be ugly and this one is.  The effects of the Detonations are terrifying.  The survivors are fused, literally, to their surroundings.  Fused to objects they were holding, people they were touching, even to the ground where they lay.  They are a combination of human, metal, wood, animals and earth.

This book had so much promise.  Which is why I'm so frustrated with the second half of the book.  Once you cross the 50% mark it starts getting preachy fast.  I've talked before about author's politics showing, but this was so blatant.  Bradwell (oddly enough still one of my favorite characters) became the mouthpiece, spouting off very thinly veiled political views.  It didn't feel genuinely connected to the book, but like something the author wanted to teach us about.

That I could mostly forgive. But the attempt at romance, that's where this book loses me.   I'm unconvinced in pretty much all the character's relationships.  I just don't believe them.  The romance feels  forced, because this is YA and apparently there has to be romance.  It was predictable and lackluster.  No heart flutterings at all.

There were also some technical problems that bugged me as well.  This book was written in 3rd person limited (At least that's what I thought).  But near the end it seemed to completely lose track of it's own POV.  There was a section that was supposed to be in Pressia's perspective, but for awhile jumped inside everyone's mind but hers.   Obviously by that point I was already frustrated, but it irked me.  If you choose to have 4 separate POVs you need to keep them separate.

And don't even make me talk about the cheesy epilogue.

There is still room for this book in the dystopian genre.  It's probably more realistically scary than most of the genre's offerings, the science, while not quite believable, is not the magic of Hunger Games or Uglies but has some basis in reality.  But it just lags.  The character spend too much time talking.  There's just something not quite there that outweighs the potential.

It seems that a lot of people liked this book more than me.  I always hate when I feel like I'm missing something.  But with this book, something was just missing for me.